Victoria Police appear to have breached their own internal policies in handling two complaints made by AFL standout Danielle Laidley, a Guardian investigation has revealed.
Laidley, a former North Melbourne coach and premiership player, settled a legal action against Victoria Police earlier this year after officers shared photos she was taken while she was in custody.
But the force did not follow its instructions in relation to two separate complaints. One related to police officers sharing other photos of her using transphobic remarks, and the other related to the possible improper retention of data downloaded from Laidley’s phone.
Under Victoria Police’s complaints management policy, investigations into complaints such as Laidley’s must be completed within 90 days. Complainants should be notified in writing when their matters are finalized and receive regular updates on the status of their complaint, the policy states.
Laidley filed separate complaints in November 2021.
The first complaint concerns a surreptitious photograph of Laidley while she was visiting Geelong Racecourse. The Age reported that several police officers were involved in the distribution of the image, some of which included offensive and transphobic messages.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (Ibac) soon requested information about the incident and Laidley’s lawyers lodged a complaint with the police.
Laidley’s lawyers filed a separate complaint later in November over her concerns that Victoria Police continued to retain data from her phone, the legal framework governing the retention of that data and the restrictions on access to the data.
The complaint was based on information that came to light during an investigation into the transfer of images by police of her while she was in custody at St Kilda Police Station.
In relation to both complaints made by Laidley, police apparently failed to complete an internal investigation by the deadline or regularly update it, correspondence seen by Guardian Australia showed.
Victoria Police also failed to inform Laidley in writing that the investigation into the incident at Geelong Racecourse was closed, another clear breach of police guidelines, and did not respond to inquiries from her lawyer about their decision to close the second complaint.
Laidley said she supports the push for a Police Ombudsman in Victoriaand urged anyone with information about the incident at Geelong Racecourse to come forward.
She said an investigator told her police were unable to investigate her complaint because the journalist who broke the story did not want to reveal his sources, but the Guardian could not confirm this.
“All I would ask is that if there is someone who knows, who can stand up and stop this garbage, we can all get on with our lives,” Laidley said.
“Someone in the community, whether it’s a police officer or the community at large, knows where they are [messages and photo] came from
“I understand, being in the AFL All these years, journalists are going to protect their sources, but mostly the police are hiding behind journalists without revealing their sources. This is easy for them to do.”
Laidley said she was troubled by the behavior of the officers involved in sharing the photo and questioned whether the investigation reflected Victoria Police’s wider attitude towards gender diverse complainants.
A Victoria Police spokesman confirmed the police’s complaints policy but would not comment on why the policy was breached in Laidley’s case.
“Victoria Police is committed to dealing with complaints as quickly as possible, balancing this with ensuring a thorough and comprehensive investigation,” the spokesman said. “Sometimes there are unforeseen external factors that are beyond our control, and if necessary, the time frame is extended.
“Victoria Police has a term guide but it’s important to note that every investigation is different and has its own complexities depending on [on] whether the investigation is of a criminal or disciplinary nature.
“When the investigation is complete, the investigator is required to provide written notification of the findings, and any action or proposed action will be directed to the complainant and the employee or employees involved.”
Jeremy King, a lawyer with Robinson Gill representing Laidley, said her case highlighted fundamental flaws in police oversight in the state.
“If one of the most high-profile cases involving the police, who has legal personality, can’t get a response from Vicpol, what hope does anyone else have?” The king said.
“The law and the policy require them to give answers in writing, and they didn’t do that.
“They have a vested interest in not doing it in other cases, and no one is holding them accountable…. [but] in this particular case, they don’t want to do that because I think they know something went wrong here, and once they put something in writing, Dani will probably do something about it.”
Ibac confirmed it was looking into an investigation into Geelong’s complaint but was unable to provide further comment.